June 15, Carlton Fletcher wrote a column about the decade with the worst music: the ’80s. Soon after, he was taken to task by squawkers, friends and assorted ’80s music defenders.
He and I had a conversation about this subject, and we came to the conclusion that there was a lot of really good music in the 1980s, but it was grossly overshadowed by an influx of sound-alike hairbands, bad pop and synthesizers.
As the ’80s began, music lovers were still riding the high of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” AC/DC’s final album with Bon Scott as their frontman, “Highway To Hell,” and bathing themselves in one of the last great albums of the dying punk rock scene, “London Calling” by the Clash.
Musically speaking, 1980 featured a few significant contributions ... among them, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” Prince’s “Dirty Mind,” Bob Seger’s “Against The Wind” and “The Game” by Queen. But it was what happened on Dec. 8 that year that would perhaps be the most poignant event of the entire decade to come. That was the day Mark David Chapman fatally shot John Lennon in front of his New York City home. It was the end of an era for fans all over the globe and a major loss to the music world. Lennon left a legacy of amazing songs, including the touching “Beautiful Boy” from the album “Double Fantasy,” which Lennon had released earlier in the year.
1981 and 82 brought us the good — Smokey Robinson’s “Being With You,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Paul McCartney’s “Take It Away,” John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane,” Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” — the bad — Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin,’” Survivor’s “The Eye Of The Tiger” — and the ugly — “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton John.
By this time “hair bands” had become as big as their perfectly teased manes ... Ratt, Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella and bands like them pumped out bad song after bad song that I would liken to a lot of today’s music: all fluff, no substance. I already know I’ll be crucified for this, but this is an opinion column, and in my opinion, hair bands are tied with disco for worst music ever.
I will say this about ’80s music, though; although most of the lyrics were about as deep as a politician’s promise, the music was fun. We all sing along and smile when we hear Rick James, Tone Loc, The B-52’s, Duran Duran, The Dazz Band or Culture Club.
And the ’80s had more than their share of one-hit-wonders like Dexy’s Midnight Runners (“Come on Eileen”), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (“Relax”), Wall of Voodoo (“Mexican Radio”), The Buggles (“Video Killed The Radio Star”) and Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry Be Happy).”
I asked for his input, and Carlton and I both picked a few of what we thought were standout songs of the ’80s.
♦ “Welcome to the Boomtown” — David and David
♦ “Cruel Summer” — Bananarama
♦ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — Guns N Roses
♦ “Sister Christian” — Night Ranger
♦ “Purple Rain” — Prince
♦ “Pride (In the Name of Love)” — U2
♦ Tom Petty — “Free Fallin’”
♦ Travelin’ Wilburys — “End of the Line”
♦ Sade — “Smooth Operator”
♦ George Clinton — “Atomic Dog”
♦ REM — “Losing My Religion”
♦ Queen/David Bowie — “Under Pressure”
Of course, if you say the music of the ’80s sucked, people will automatically bring up Michael Jackson as an example of why you’re wrong, so let me go ahead and say that the album “Thriller” was one of the best albums of the ’80s, and, for many, of all time. Also worthy of a mention are George Michael, Whitney Houston, Blondie, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks and Peter Gabriel.
It turns out that the ’80s weren’t so bad after all, and even the bad stuff tends to evoke acute feelings of nostalgia for most of us.
So if I want to hear meaningful lyrics and skillful musicianship, I’m going to stick with my favorite musical decade, the ’70s. But from now on, when I think of ’80s music I will have a kinder, gentler opinion and enjoy it for what it was: simple and fun.